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  • Shelley Dark

14. Paris on foot

It's a rainy afternoon in Paris. This really heavy shower had the Seine dancing.

We're tucked up in our apartment, drinking coffee, eating macaroons and editing photos. We've just been to Neuilly (by Métro) to have lunch with our son-in-law's parents and son Freddy. If you came with me last year to Paris, you didn't meet Freddy, but you'll remember what darlings JC and Monique are. Freddy's the bee's knees too.

Cally and I stayed with them in their gorgeous country house west of Paris for a couple of days.

With its beautiful garden...

The garden at Neuilly is beautiful too. This photo was from last year as well. It was too wet to take photos today.

Lunch was served with Monique's usual elegance: slices of beautifully ripe rockmelon and thinly sliced proscuitto, radishes, tiny tomatoes with basil, tossed salad, cheeses, baguette and butter. Followed by the sweetest of strawberries, cream and sugar. Simple and beautiful. Monique is so typically French in her shopping, this morning from the markets. Each food item is bought from the best supplier of that particular thing. Bread from a special baker, meat from the best butcher, sausages and cured meats from the charcuterie, cheese from a cheese shop, fish from the fishmonger, fruit and vegetables from the market. Nothing from a supermarket.

This is a photo of Freddy, John and Monique. JC was seated, but pulled such a bad face in every photo I've had to delete him. He's so naughty! I wish they lived closer to us and our mutual grandchildren. We solved the world's problems as we ate and drank.

We bought these white peonies for Monique and JC at the Marché aux Fleurs Louis Lépine. It's open 7 days a week and the flower seller chose immature buds for me so that they will be at their best next week. And when I confirmed they were a gift for friends, she put an extra one in. Birds and bird food are sold there as well, so there's a constant musical whistling and chirruping.

But let's return to breakfast yesterday with Helena. It's quite a red letter day to dine at Le Meurice! I chose the fresh fruit - I'm not sure where in the world mangoes would be in season, but it was magnificent. Every single piece of fruit was the absolute best.

Even the butter carries the hotel logo.

Then caramelised waffles and fresh vanilla cream. How decadent!

We talked and laughed for four hours non-stop. Except for brief trips to take a photo or two.

The hotel has been in this location since 1835. From 1771, English travellers crossing the channel used to stay in Calais at an inn belonging to local post-master, Charles-Augustin Meurice. He understood what an aristocratic traveller might want. He also began a coach service to Paris, a trip of thirty-six hours. (!) He prospered so well that he decided to open a hotel in Paris in 1817. In another eighteen years, he moved his hotel to a prime position opposite the Tuileries garden.

Hôtel Le Meurice had a reputation for luxury, exotic foods and lavish parties right from the beginning. The crowned heads of Europe and celebrities of the day stayed here. A company was formed to own and renovate in 1898, with work taking two years from 1905. It had modern day luxuries such as individual private baths. It was during this period that the greyhounds became the symbol of the hotel.

The public areas had a makeover by Philippe Starck in 2007, with additions such as this icy waterfall over a marble fireplace. Very different from the original extravagant Louis XVI style.

The renovations of 1905 confirmed Le Meurice's reputation as the place to stay. The King of Spain called Suite 106-8 his own and brought his own furniture. Kings and presidents of Montenegro, England, France, Zanzibar, Jairpur, Russia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Iran, Italy, Serbia, Jordan, Romania and Thailand have since been guests. It was soon called the Hôtel des Rois (The Hotel of Kings).

Dethroned kings took refuge here. A Spanish king, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the dethroned king of Montenegro. The Shah of Iran actually lost his crown while he was staying here.

There was a rooftop restaurant and theatre performances were held in the hotel. During World War I, it closed for a time to become a hospital for wounded soldiers. Picasso and his beautiful wife Olga had their wedding reception here.

During World War II Le Meurice became the headquarters for the German army. Towards the end of the war, Hitler ordered explosives to be placed under all Paris monuments: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the bridges over the Seine for the city to be levelled. If he had to abandon Paris, he wanted only rubble left. General von Choltitz, at Le Meurice, decided to disobey. The popular story goes that a week later Hitler phoned him in a rage, screaming, 'Brennt Paris?' 'Is Paris burning?'

Von Choltitz was given the Légion d'Honneur after the war by the French government.

There was another major renovation in 1947 after the war, and again in 2000.

One of the most unusual regular guests was Salvador Dali. Among his more bizarre requests were to for a flock of sheep brought to his room and also a horse. He paid staff one euro for each fly caught and brought to him from the Tuileries garden. He gave signed lithographs to his favourite staff members.

The hotel is full of antique furniture and works of art from Sotheby's and Christies. Each room has at least 100 yards of fabrics from such companies as Rubelli and Braquenié. The Belle Etoile Royal Suite with its rooftop terrace has views from its bath of Montmartre on one side, the Musée d'Orsay and the golden dome of Les Invalides on the other.

Now I can say Le Meurice is my favourite breakfast spot! By midday the staff probably thought we were moving in for the duration.

I was back at our apartment after a brisk twenty minutes walk to collect John, and in another half an hour we'd walked to the Opéra Garnier building, finished in 1875. Paris is so easy to negotiate on foot.

The opera house is named after its architect Charles Garnier. It's representative of the opulence, the extravagance, and the sheer beauty that Paris does so well. While I was planning this trip, I looked to see what performances were on to coincide with our visit. We decided against King Lear.

Isn't it too fabulous? There was a man playing the guitar and singing on the footpath in front, to an audience mainly of tourists, giving their feet a break.

Both gilt statues are by the sculptor Gumery. This one represents poetry, the one below, harmony.

photo Wikimedia Commons, drawing of Perspective View by Charles Garnier

There were crowds inside of course, so I didn't take a photo of the grand staircase, covered with people.

This is the ceiling above it.

The grand foyer. We couldn't see inside the auditorium because there were rehearsals going on.

We were able to stand in one of the boxes, in darkness, and watch for two minutes as the dancers rehearsed. I could have stayed for hours.

While we were there we popped into Galeries Lafayette to see the wonderful glass dome.

Built in the art nouveau style in 1912 for its two owners to the design of architect Georges Chedanne, it stunned Paris of the time.

It's remained a family business for 5 generations.

It's the most visited place in Paris after the Eiffel Tower!

We went up to the rooftop, wall to wall (except there are none, just a balustrade) with people lying on the artificial grass, sunbaking, sleeping, sitting on the chairs provided. There's a view of the Sacré-coeur at Montmartre.

The Eiffel Tower.

Paris rooftops with all their chimneys. And air-conditioners.

The Opéra and the Panthéon.

And beautiful buildings which make your heart stop.

The poetry of repetition.

It was becoming late and we set off for home. We passed a photo shoot with this model.

John nearly knocked me over to get a better angle. I won. -:)

But he beat me to it with this photo of the the little Citroën.

Tomorrow is the first day of my travel writing course. I start at 9am and finish at 6pm and then the participants have dinner together at a local restaurant in the Marais. I'm not at all sure what homework I will have during the week and the course runs until Friday. If I can do a post, I will, but it seems highly unlikely. I'll try to give you some updates, just to let you know how I'm going! And I'll certainly do catch-up posts when I'm back at home. We fly out on Sunday.

I'm really looking forward to this week. So buddies until I write to you again, I 'wait you'.

shelley dark, writer 

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